Manes (called also Mani among Oriental writers, Μανιχαῖος and Manichaeus among Greeks and Latins). The lives of all ancient heretics have suffered much from the misrepresentations of their opponents. In the case of Manes there is the additional difficulty that we have two contradictory accounts in the Western and Eastern traditions. The Western story is derived from the Acts of Archelaus, bp. of Caschar; the Eastern from Persian and Arabian historians. Our earliest authentic notice of him is in Eusebius ( H. E. vii. 31), where he is described "as a barbarian in life, both in speech and conduct, who attempted to form himself into a Christ, and then also proclaimed himself to be the very Paraclete and the Holy Spirit. Then, as if he were Christ, he selected twelve disciples. the partners of his new religion, and after patching together false and ungodly doctrines, collected from a thousand heresies long since extinct, he swept them off like a deadly poison, from Persia, upon this part of the world." The Acta Archelai were forged by some romancing Greek between a.d. 330 and 340, as we first find them quoted by Cyrill. Hieros. ( Catech. vi., written a.d. 348–350), and Eusebius in his history, pub. 326–330, knows nothing of them. If genuine, it is scarcely possible that Eusebius, living but a few miles from Jerusalem and with all the imperial resources at his back, could have been ignorant of a dispute which must have made such a noise all over Syria and Mesopotamia.
Upon the story told by the Syrian, Persian, and Arab historians and chroniclers known to Beausobre he places much more reliance than upon the Western tradition (pt. i. liv. ii. cc. i.–iv.). It runs thus: Manes was born c. 240, and descended from a Magian family. He was well educated in Greek, music, mathematics, geography, astronomy, painting, medicine, and the Scriptures. Being very zealous for the faith, he was ordained priest while yet young, but becoming a heretic he went to the court of Sapor, whom he proselytized to his views, c. 267, but as soon as he opened his views more fully the king resolved to put him to death. In fact, a real revival of Zoroastrian doctrine had taken place under his reign, and as soon as Manes disclosed his full plan it was seen to involve the overthrow of the national religion. He then fled into Turkestan, where he gained many disciples, used his talents to adorn a temple with paintings, and hiding himself in a cave for 12 months produced his gospel in a book embellished with beautiful figures. He returned to Persia, and presented this to king Hormisdas, who protected him and embraced his views. This king, dying within two years, was succeeded by Varanes I. a.d. 273, who was at first favourable to Manes. The national priesthood, however, becoming alarmed at the power of his sect, challenged him to a disputation before the king, after which he was condemned to die as a heretic. According to some he was crucified, according to others cut in two or flayed alive (Hyde, Rel. Vet. Pers. p. 283; Renaudot, Hist. Pat. Alex. pp. 40–49; Eutych. Annal. Alex. t. i. p. 387; Hotting. Hist. Orient. i. 3). Varanes instituted a general persecution of the Manicheans after his death. Eutychius ( l.c. ) reports a savage jest of his on this subject. He put to death 200 Manicheans, and caused them to be buried with their heads down and their feet projecting above ground. He then boasted he had a garden planted with men instead of trees. The persecution was so severe that adherents of the sect fled into all the neighbouring lands—India, China, Turkestan, etc. The pretext of the persecution was that the spread of the sect was hostile to the human race through their opposition to marriage (Assem. Bibl. Or. iii. 220).
Since Beausobre's time the sources of Oriental knowledge have been much enlarged, and modern research inclines more and more to trust the concordant testimony of Persian, Arabic, and Armenian historians, as opposed to the Byzantines, about the affairs of W. Asia. According to these Eastern authorities, the father of Manes came originally from Persia to Babylon, where Manes was born. One day his father heard in a temple a voice saying, "Eat no flesh, drink no wine, and abstain from women," whereupon he founded the sect of the Mugtasila or the Washers, identical with the Sabians of the Marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates, still found near Bassora. In this sect Manes was brought up, being instructed in all the knowledge of his time. At 12 years old an angel announced to him that when older he should abandon that sect. At 24 the same angel summoned him to found Manicheism in these words: "Hail, Manes, from me and from the Lord which has sent me to thee and chosen thee for his work. Now he commands thee to proclaim the glad tidings of the truth which comes from him, and bestow thereon thy whole zeal." Manes, according to one tradition, entered on his office the day that Sapor, son of Artaxerxes, succeeded to the throne, Sun. Apr. 1, 238, as Flügel determines by a lengthened calculation (pp. 146–149). According to another (p. 85) Manes appeared in the 2nd year of the emperor Gallus, a.d. 252 (pp. 150–162). He claimed to be the Paraclete promised by Christ, and derived his dogmas from Persian and Christian sources. Before Manes met Sapor he travelled for 40 years through various countries. Upon his return he invited Fîruz, the brother of Sapor and son of Artaxerxes, to accept his doctrines. Through him he was introduced to Sapor, who shewed him great respect, though he had previously intended to slay him. He promised reformation of his own life and freedom to Manes's adherents to preach their views. Already the sect had spread into India, China, and Turkestan. Manes was put to death by Varanes I. (272–276), and his body, cut in two, was suspended over the two gates of the city Dschundîsâbûr, pp. 99, 329–334. A version of his history which later research has brought to light is in Albîrûnî's Chronology of Ancient Nations , trans. by E. Sachau and pub. by the Oriental Trans. Fund in 1879. It is a most important document, and well deserves the praise the learned editor lavishes upon it in his introduction. In many particulars it strikingly confirms the narrative of an-Nadîm given by Flügel, both being probably derived from Manichean sources. Albîrûnî was a native of Khiva, a.d. 973–1048, and lived and wrote near there. This work proves him to have possessed vast literary resources no longer available, but some of which may yet be found in Central Asia. (Cf. art. by Thomas on Recent Pehlvi Decipherments in Jour. Asiat. Soc. 1871, p. 417.) The writings of Manes were very numerous. From Albîrûnî's work we learn that some were still in existence in the 11th cent. They were written in Persian and Syriac, and, according to Muhammad ben Ishak, in a character peculiar to the Manicheans. Of this alphabet Flügel in his commentary, p. 167, gives a copy. It contained more letters than the Syriac, and was chiefly used by the Manicheans of Samarkhand and Transoxania, where the Marcionites who still existed there in the 10th cent. used a similar character. The names of his books, according to Beausobre, are his Gospel; his Treasure of Life; Book of Chapters; Treatise about the Faith, which Beausobre (t. i. p. 427) believes identical with his Mysteries ( μυστήρια , Epiph. Haer. lxvi. 14), of which too he gives an analysis, with which cf. the very different one by Muhammad ben Ishak in Flügel, p. 102; Book about the Giants, known in Syriac at the court of Baghdad so late as the 9th cent. ( Jour. Asiat. Mar 1835, p. 260). According to Epiphanius he also wrote treatises on astronomy, astrology, and magic. To his Fundamental Epistle Augustine replies in his treatise cont. Ep. Fundamenti. This last seems to have been specially popular in Africa. In Fabric. ( Bibl. Graec. lib. v. c. i.) will be found a collection of fragments from his epistles and a list of his works.